When Comebacks Collapse: 10 Blown Second Chances
by Jason Heller, Noel Murray, Sean O'Neal, Keith Phipps, Tasha Robinson, Kyle Ryan
October 16th, 2007
1. Elvis Presley
The most famous comeback story in pop culture should end with Elvis back on top following the 1968 television special that found him simultaneously returning to his roots and finding his way forward with the wrenching, socially relevant "If I Can Dream." Vowing not to do music that didn't mean something to him, he kept the train rolling for another couple of years, releasing some of the best music of his career in 1969, and through some dynamic concert appearances in the early '70s. Then he started to slip back into old, lazy, abusive habits, and… Well, everyone probably already knows the rest.
2. Burt Reynolds
In his '70s and '80s heyday, Burt Reynolds was the undisputed king of redneck action-comedies. Post-Boogie Nights, he's become the king of blown opportunities. Reynolds' Oscar-nominated turn as a paternal porn kingpin in Boogie Nights revealed a new depth and melancholy in his persona. But he failed to capitalize on his Boogie Nights buzz, opting instead for quick, easy paydays in projects like with telltale titles like Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business and Hard Time: The Premonition. It isn't exactly a promising sign that Reynolds' most high-profile upcoming role is in In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, a Uwe Boll-directed video-game adaptation. Those are always good, right?
3. Jane Fonda
After abandoning acting for the more satisfying gig of being a colorful billionaire's wife, Jane Fonda limped back onto the screen with an excruciatingly awkward deer-in-the-headlights turn as an evil career woman in 2005's Monster In Law. Though the repellent Meet The Parents knockoff was a modest commercial success, it seemingly left the venerable thespian nowhere to go but up. Yet 2007's Georgia Rule equaled Monster-In-Law's cynical, mercenary miscalculation. Then again, it could be worse: Fonda almost ended up playing opposite Ashton Kutcher in Elizabethtown.
When Ma$e announced his return to hip-hop following a Jesus-induced early retirement, fans wondered what his comeback album would sound like. Would he be working with high-profile fan Kanye West? Would Ma$e's spiritual obsessions lead him in a gospel direction? Ma$e ended up disappointing just about everyone with 2004's unimaginatively titled Welcome Back, a highly forgettable album of generic, materialist, overwhelmingly secular dance-rap virtually indistinguishable from his early albums. He returned to his previously unmentioned, grimy Murder Ma$e roots on an appearance on the Get Rich Or Die Tryin' soundtrack, prompting hip-hop heads to wonder which label will release his next flop: old home Bad Boy, or new suitor G-Unit.
5. The Stooges
Good will toward Iggy Pop peaked in the new century, when revisionist historians somewhat justifiably declared that decades of horrid Iggy solo albums no longer outweighed his brief flash of brilliance in The Stooges. Into a strange cultural atmosphere where Stooges T-shirts could be bought at Urban Outfitters, Pop and crew reunited, drafted Minutemen's Mike Watt, and set out to record The Weirdness. Comeback albums happen every day, but few bands approach them with a spotless discography that ended more than 30 years prior. There was reason to believe the record might even wind up less than embarrassing; after all, The Stooges' original sound is primordial enough to be timeless, and an aging Iggy should've been able to conjure darkness and perversion with far more authority than his younger self. What happened next is textbook irony: The Weirdness wasn't weird at all. In fact, it sounded like yet another horrid Iggy solo album. Live shows notwithstanding—onstage, Pop still wallops—it's time to put a fork in this guy. Or at least keep him out of the recording studio.
6. George Lucas
If anybody didn't need a second chance, it was George Lucas: In the '90s, Star Wars was still considered one of the greatest stories ever told. When Lucas announced he would "digitally enhance" the originals for a theatrical re-release, fans were excited to see his "definitive vision." This would be Lucas' chance to cement his legacy and stake his claim on another generation's imagination. When the world got a look at the "special edition," however, many were outraged: While some of the cleaned-up effects were nice, no one was thrilled to see cartoonish CGI creatures awkwardly wedged into frames they'd long ago memorized, or additions (Greedo shooting first) that completely changed characters that some fans knew better than their own families. The prequels gave Lucas his third, fourth, and fifth chances to redeem the saga—which never needed redeeming until he started meddling with it—and while kids under 6 may someday fondly recall growing up with Jar-Jar and Li'l Darth Vader, it's safe to say his original acolytes wish Lucas had never bothered in the first place.
7. Duran Duran
Duran Duran was so synonymous with '80s pop that naming its first greatest-hits album Decade made all the sense in the world. Still, by the end of the '80s, the band's hit-making potential had greatly waned. All that changed with its second self-titled album in 1993. Also known as "The Wedding Album" for the photos on its cover, Duran Duran returned the band to the spotlight, thanks to its uncharacteristically beguiling singles "Ordinary World" and "Come Undone." Could the group claim the '90s as well? The answer arrived in the form of 1995's Thank You, a leaden covers album that veers from bad (a laughable take on Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five's "White Lines (Don't Do It)") to worse (The Doors' "The Crystal Ship").
8. Woody Allen
After spending most of the '90s making interesting-but-not-quite-there conceptual comedies, Woody Allen began the '00s with Small Time Crooks, a mediocre caper flick that caught on with audiences, if not critics. Sensing a chance to build on his moment of minor box-office clout, Allen followed up with a string of truly awful films: The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, Anything Else, and Melinda And Melinda. And then he scored again—this time with audiences and critics—by shifting gears from comedy to suspense, and locations from New York to London. Match Point seemed to herald a new Woody Allen, using his slow-developing gifts as a stylist to explore different moods. But Match Point was followed by the clumsy mystery-comedy Scoop, and then by the upcoming Cassandra's Dream, which by all accounts is a Match Point retread, right down to the class conflict and money woes. Given Allen's movie-a-year pace, there's a good chance that he'll make another successful film before he retires (or dies), but hopes for the great Woody Allen renaissance keep getting dashed almost as soon as they're raised.
When Frank Black/Black Francis/Charles Thompson announced the Pixies reunion in late 2003, the effect was seismic: Gen-Xers, still smarting from nü-metal and boy-band pop, greeted the reformed band like returning exiled royalty. But as two years passed without new music—saved for the tossed-off "Bam Thwok," a Shrek 2 soundtrack reject—the buzz wore off. The reports changed constantly: "New Pixies LP unlikely" (MTV.com, Sept. '04); "Brand new Pixies album nears completion" (Spin, Oct. '05); "Pixies stall over new album plans" (NME, Oct. '05); "Pixies begin work on new album" (NME, Oct. '06). By summer 2007, even Black seemed to stop caring: Press materials for his new solo album, Bluefinger, dismiss talk of new material. As if to throw fans a bone, he released the album under his Pixies moniker, Black Francis.
10. John Travolta
Practically the poster boy for blown second chances, John Travolta went from superstar lead of Grease, Urban Cowboy, Saturday Night Fever, and Staying Alive to has-been star of three Look Who's Talking movies, not to mention a bunch of forgotten '80s fare like Two Of A Kind and Eyes Of An Angel. Then Quentin Tarantino revived his cool rep with Pulp Fiction. For a brief and shining moment, Travolta was a star again, though in an uneven sort of way, with snazzy vehicles like Face/Off and Get Shorty blending weirdly with failed projects like the mopey, ill-conceived White Man's Burden and Michael. The less said about what's followed, from Battlefield Earth to Wild Hogs to his fat-suited, over-the-top crooning in Hairspray, the better. Remember when he was a sex symbol? Does anyone?